(Cherry) Blossom into Spring

Over a million people will congregate in West Potomac Park this March and April to celebrate one of the largest symbols of friendship between the U.S. and Japan: The cherry blossom trees that bloom each spring. In a spectacular display, they gather enough attention to warrant a festival in their name. This year, the festival will be held on March 15th to April 16th in Washington D.C.

The date of the festival this year was in contention- the original starting date was March 20th. The rescheduling was due to to the unseasonably warm late-winter weather, with temperatures climbing into the 60s for days on end. This change has brought the flowers to blossom early, perhaps the earliest in history. The new projected peak bloom dates are March 14th to the 17th, adding to the rich story that has been continuing for almost 100 years.

The first of these annual festivals was held in 1927, but the event that inspired them took place 15 years earlier in 1912. The mayor of Tokyo, Japan, Yukio Ozaki presented U.S. President William Howard Taft  with 3,000 cherry blossom trees. The first trees were planted in West Potomac Park by First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, the Viscountess Chinda.

In Washington, D.C., it is traditional for First Ladies to participate in the festival, following in First Lady Taft’s footsteps. All First Ladies have served as Honorary Chair and many participated in the celebration itself. In 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the 100th anniversary of the gift-giving and planted a new sapling in West Potomac Park.

The Cherry Blossom Festival is a symbol of friendship and freedom, but it is not without its rules. It’s prohibited to pick any of the blossoms at the festival or climb any trees. Possibly a more heinous offense is to snap off a twig- no new blossoms can bloom from a broken branch.

The 2017 festival marks the 90th anniversary of the first celebration and the 105th anniversary of the gift.